Even now, Conrad Pelland has no idea what happened that day in 1945. The young Marine was an infantryman with the 3rd Marine Division, part of the armada invasion of the Japanese volcanic island Iwo Jima.
"We were advancing," said Pelland, now 89. "There were two airfields in the center of the island." Surrounding the American fighters, in much rougher terrain, were thousands of Japanese soldiers.
"Finally, the commanders realized we were in jeopardy," he said. "My second lieutenant got hit in the hip. I was right next to him."
An officer ordered Pelland and another Marine to the field hospital to get a stretcher. They did and headed back.
"The next thing I knew, I was on a hospital ship."
Pelland thinks a shell may have knocked him unconscious; he was too close for shrapnel punctures. He suffered hearing damage.
He was awarded a Purple Heart and later received a copy of the classic Joe Rosenthal photograph of the five Marines and one sailor raising the flag of the United States atop Mount Suribachi. Iwo Jima was one of the major battles of World War II.
As Veterans Day approaches, Pelland recounted the incident in the west St. Petersburg home he and his wife, Rosemary, 83, have shared for more than 50 years. He has hearing impairment and macular degeneration but is vigorous still, having caught a 3-foot-long kingfish the previous day.
For all his ailments, he said, the Bay Pines VA Medical Center has "treated me like a king" over the years.
The war was over when the Pellands met in September 1948, in their hometown of New Bedford, Mass. Her uncle Walter invited Pelland, then known as Bill, to a birthday party.
"I wouldn't look at him all night. He was so good-looking," Rosemary Pelland said. They married in June.
There were bumps in the road. Pelland says he had a chip on his shoulder. He was 13 when his father died, and he dropped out of school to help support the family. He had a mouth that got him into trouble during basic training at Parris Island, S.C.
Back home from the war, he experienced what professionals today call post-traumatic stress disorder. In those days it was known as shell shock, or battle fatigue. He turned down a promotion at the Continental Screw Co., which supplied the automobile industry.
"It was too much," Mrs. Pelland said. "He knew that." He left the company, and the couple moved in with her parents, who had relocated to Pinellas County.
"When I got to Florida," Pelland said, "you couldn't find work."
He was a sheet-metal laborer for a while and then hired on as a bellhop at the Desert Ranch in St. Pete Beach. After that, he got a job in the St. Petersburg Times composing room and then in the pressroom, retiring as the man in charge in 1987 after 29 years at the newspaper.
Mrs. Pelland ran a licensed day-care operation and earned a real estate license. Her career, she said, was the family: children William, Deborah, Sandra and Katherine. To this day, the siblings thrive together, as do the Pellands' eight grandchildren, four great-grandchildren and four great-great-grandchildren.
"We have an amazing family," she said. "Even the dogs get along."
Katherine Pelland White, their youngest, took her dog Cheeto, a rescue Lhasa-poo, on a road trip to Virginia this past summer. Beaufort, S.C., home of the Parris Island War Museum, is about halfway. On her way home, she stopped by. In a section devoted to World War II, she saw a photo of a young Marine cleaning his rifle. She thought he looked a lot like her dad.
White took a picture of that image and had it enlarged so her father could see it. Her instincts were correct.
"Pure pride beamed from Dad's eyes!" she recalled.
He hasn't talked much about those days. "I'm glad I went and served my country," Pelland said.
He looks into the distance at something only he can see.